A 2004 exhibition project and community dialogue on what makes a family, and what role family plays in making us who we are.
In the mid-1990s, Peter made a trip to Denmark with his father, whose brother was dying of cancer. Jens Christian was the one person in Peter’s Danish family whom his father kept in touch with during his adult life in the United States, and Peter at the time only knew his Danish relations through Jens Christian. Peter decided to go on the trip as much to establish a connection with his Danish cousins as to bid his uncle good-bye.
While on the trip, Peter learned more of his father’s other half-brother, Møgens, who had died a number of years earlier. The only thing Peter knew of him was that he had died “in an insane asylum.” What Peter learned was that Møgens had also been an artist, and one whose style bore uncanny resemblance to some of Peter’s work at the time. As far as Peter had known, he was from a family with no serious artists; he had always wondered in some ways where he had come from. Not only did the dearth of artists in his genealogy prove untrue, but now he had found someone within his own bloodline whose art was much like his own. It was a revelation.
“I was blown away by this exhibition—the combination of an intimate story through art from Peter with equally intimate yet radically different art and stories from young people in Baltimore spoke so directly to our universal connections… our shared wants and needs. Such a well-layered, humanizing project.”
—Jessica Kohnen, Audience Member
When Peter returned from Denmark, he had with him a self-portrait drawing in ink by his uncle—one that in its sharp distorted figuration bore uncanny resemblance to some of Peter’s own work. For It Starts with Family, Peter created 48 drawings playing off the angularity of Møgens’ piece—each drawing starting with pencil marks made from looking in the mirror. These 48 drawings (see some of them here) were set beside Møgens’ drawing, creating a picture of call and response.
To further explore the idea of “family” in the broader sense, Peter partnered with nine young people from Community Law In Action (CLIA), an organization dedicated to developing youth leaders. He asked them to make art honoring the person most essential to shaping them or setting them on their paths. The results spoke to the same truth as Peter’s art: we owe gratitude to both biological and chosen family for making us who we are.
“In Honor of Coach Hayden” by Anthony Sykes
Taking place at the Creative Alliance in summer 2004, the exhibition featured the self-portrait by Møgens, 48 drawings made in honor of it, and nine paintings by CLIA youth. Alongside each of the CLIA youth drawings were the young artists’ names and the names of those honored. Peter installed all the art along a stripe of wall painted in mango-yellow—a warming color linking all the works in a single visual line, suggesting the link or lineage any of us may share.
The opening reception provided the opportunity to bring the tributes on the walls to vivid life. Prior to the event, the young people whose art was shown were asked to consider remarks they wished to make in honor of their chosen family members, and to invite those honorees to the event when possible. Each young artist invited their honoree to the event, and paid tribute to that person either in words or song. Thunderous audience applause affirmed both mentor and mentee. In the end, audience members were invited to share their own family members with whom “it started” for them, leading to a parade of testimonials lasting well beyond the time allotted to the reception.